Thursday, October 18, 2007
If there's one activity I can claim to be an expert on, it's sleeping.
Every workday is an effort for me. On weekends I can sleep for 12 hours, and still want an afternoon nap. When flying I've been known to fall asleep before the plane is in the sky, and not awake until the thump of rubber on tarmac as we arrive at our destination.
Thus I was stunned to find myself staring at a clock which told me the time was 7.45am. My sleep had lasted for less than five hours, after over a day of constant activity. I'd not been so surprised since Maurice Johnston signed for Rangers.
I lingered in the room for an hour. Convinced I'd nod off again at any second. It didn't happen.
Surveying my accommodation, I had mixed views on the MGM Grand West Wing concept.
On the plus side, the rooms are luxuriously fitted out. Nice bed linen, BOSE radio/CD, leather seat, big TV with DVD, and a second TV embedded in the bathroom mirror.
All very swish, and ultra modern. It just reeks of an expensive finish.
On the negative side, the rooms are tiny. There's no separate bathroom. Instead a partition and transition from carpet to tiles marks out the bathroom section, where a very powerful shower, and a toilet, are encapsulated in two frosted glass walk-in cubicles.
Throw in a view of an opposing wall from the window, and I was somewhat ambivalent about the concept.
The corridors are depressing. Dark carpet, dark walls, and a low ceiling gave it the air of an open prison. Compensating for this was the short distance from room to designer bar, with the poker room just a few paces beyond.
By 9.30am I was perched at the bar in the Studio Cafe, awaiting commencement of my first proper breakfast of the trip. I'd ordered coffee and water to get me going.
The waitress placed a large glass of a reddish liquid in front of me.
'Errr, what's this?'
'Your cranberry juice.'
Second accent issue of the trip.
Communication difficulties resolved, I tucked into an enormous Grand Breakfast. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, and more. I'm a big fan of US breakfasts!
The guy next to me at the bar engaged me in conversation. He resembled a more animated version of Mr Miyagi, and told me he was an ex-paratrooper.
Together with his wife, they'd retired to Vegas and although they owned an apartment, they spent most of their time residing in hotels using the comps they built up through gaming activities.
'You gotta be careful.' he told me, 'The only game you can beat is poker.'
I nodded sagely.
Returning to my room, I caught a glimpse of myself in the full length hallway mirrors. I paused and stared for a second.
Many people wish for film star looks. Right now, I resembled Casper the Ghost.
I needed some sun and had some shopping to do, as I was planning to exploit the weak dollar to get a new digital camera.
An oversight on my part had also found me in Vegas minus a watch. Not a good idea. A new timepiece was also on the agenda.
I navigated The Strip from the shops at Planet Hollywood, where I found a decent watch, to The Forum at Caesars Palace where my new camera was purchased.
The scale of Vegas really is astounding. On my previous visit, K and I had made a big effort to get round all the major landmarks, from Mandalay Bay to The Stratosphere, and on to Fremont Street.
Yet as I wandered around The Forum shops - which are ornate, luxurious, and vast - I had no recollection of being there before. Had we missed them, had they changed beyond recognition, or had I simply forgotten? I had no clue.
As I meandered around town, I couldn't help noticing the preoccupation Vegas has with some rather unlikely UK artists.
Spice Girls in The Bellagio was strange but at least proportionate; Human League blasting out onto The Strip from an unidentifiable venue was unexpected; but the icing on the cake was Rick Astley in the MGM. Downright weird.
Entering the MGM to a rather more contemporary soundtrack, I experienced one of those bizarre moments only Vegas can provide.
Dancing on the Centrifuge bar to Christina Aguilera were three bartenders. Edging through the watching tourists was a wedding party - complete with bride in white.
As I stepped aside, a lion roared to my right. Not a taped roar. A real, full blooded roar from one of the two lions being fed in the perspex cage, as another crowd of tourists snapped merrily away.
Dancing bartenders, brides, and lions. I grinned broadly and paused for a moment to absorb the scene.
After dropping off my purchases in my room, I made my first use of the relatively new Las Vegas Monorail.
I've seen some derogatory comments about this system, but to me it was a fantastic resource. A $9 ticket gets unlimited travel for 24 hours, and the trip from MGM to Sahara took only 15 minutes. It seemed extremely well utilised whenever I was on board.
The purpose of my visit to The Sahara was to sample their two theme rides. The Speed rollercoaster, and Cyber Speedway Nascar simulator.
I wasn't too concerned about my hearty breakfast, since I'd done a fair bit of walking since then.
A group of middle aged English guys queued ahead of me, as we awaited the arrival of the Speed carriage.
I settled down in the carriage behind them, eagerly anticipating the ride commencement.
'Fucking hell', I exclaimed, as the carriage suddenly shot forward like a bullet from a gun.
My cheeks felt like they were pinned back to my ears as we hurtled through a succession of twists and into a loop. Pausing momentarily before reversing the original route back to the start.
I staggered off the ride elated but more than a little queasy. The English guys in front all had similar expressions. We were giggling like kids.
In the past I've been on bigger, higher, twistier rides, but I've never experienced one where I still felt like I was waiting for my stomach to catch up with the rest of my body an hour after the ride finished.
Which made it a supremely bad idea to go straight onto the Nascar ride, but it didn't stop me.
In comparison to Speed, Nascar was a bit of a letdown. No one else was driving, and me against the circuit was a bit dull - even if I did manage to spin off once. At least I 'won' a t-shirt.
The plan was to continue onwards to The Stratosphere, but the desert winds were gusting and I could see the rides weren't running, which came as a great relief to the empty space where my stomach used to reside.
Instead I went back to my room for a quick snooze, before hitting up the MGM Poker Room again.
When I got there the place was rocking and I was soon seated at one of many $1/2 NLH tables.
The table was fun, friendly, and wild. I post to play and look down at AKs. So pretty! Making it $10 to play, I'm instantly repopped by an older guy to my left.
Aaargh. 1st hand, no reads, I take a flop, miss completely, and check fold. He tells me he had AA. Maybe he did. Most of his future play does point in that direction.
I then get QQ. Raise up a multitude of callers, c-bet an A9x high flop, and when the board pairs 9s on the turn, the only flop check-caller leads into me, which makes it an easy fold.
Still, it's all good fun. An English dealer joins the table. Pretty soon she is chiding two Hispanic guys who are talking Spanish during a hand.
They've been warned a few times before by other dealers and take it all in good spirits, claiming they've never played before. I don't believe that, but I do believe they aren't taking the game seriously.
The dealer and I are having a good chat about UK matters, and one of the Hispanic guys butts in with the 'English only' warning to us. We all have a good laugh about the accent issues.
One of the Hispanic guys is playing pretty wild. He's in the habit of min re-raising anyone who raises pre-flop. It's working too. People keep calling the reraise then folding on the flop. I resolve not to give him the opportunity to bet me off a flop.
I find AK again and raise. As expected he doubles the bet. I push for roughly $150 in total. He gives me a slightly surprised look, shrugs nonchalantly, and calls.
For a second I'm having one of those 'shit I just ran into a real hand' moments, until he tables AJo. Happy days, as my hand holds up and I'm ahead for the evening.
The table is mostly tourists, but there are obviously a couple of faces more familiar to the dealers. One of whom is a young, pretty brunette girl who gets into a hand with a table newbie sat immediately to my left.
The Newbie is the one bad egg at the table. Terrible player, and whiny with it.
There's some light action on the flop; he gives a free card on the turn; and eventually calls after heavy river action, only to discover his flopped two pair has gone down to the girl's rivered set of Jacks.
He slams the table in disgust, and turns to me.
'Why do I always lose like that!? I've lost so much today, and always on the river.'
I nod sympathetically, whilst thinking if you knew how to bet, she'd never have got there. For the rest of his time at the table, I studiously ignore him.
Cashing out ahead, I make my way to the Crazy Horse Paris burlesque show. The joy of being in Vegas is being able to make last minute decisions on the most outlandish range of entertainment options!
I was glad not to be seated at a table with any particularly lovey-dovey couples. Could have got a bit embarrassing!
The show itself was fun without being wild. The girls are amazing - I doubt there's a finer collection of (naturally) perky boobs and bums in Vegas - and it's all very stylishly lit and tastefully choreographed, but it's hardly raunchy.
'More flirty than dirty', was how I described it to K later.
I presume the MGM management have certain ideas about the image of their establishment that necessitates keeping the sexy stuff at a rather anodyne level.
It didn't help that the crowd was somewhat unresponsive. Mostly sitting back and exuding a 'here we are now, entertain us' vibe. The grand finale was a real showstopper, but it got little more than polite applause.
After the show I headed back to Centrifuge for a few drinks. The waiting lists in the poker room were huge, and I figured I'd be ready for bed before a seat was available.
First full day in Vegas complete. Sun, cheap gadgets, thrill rides, booze, poker, and naked girls. Not a bad way to start the holiday.